Christian Science Monitor: War on poverty? Why presidential campaigns don't talk about the poor.
Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney has made poverty a big part of his campaign. It's no wonder. Poverty has become something of a toxic issue for many American voters.
A presidential campaign, it would seem, is not the best time to have a comprehensive debate about poverty in America.
And President Obama – the former community organizer many expected would make poverty a core concern? His health-care reforms were historic. But on the stump he “can barely bring himself to say the word ‘poor,’ ” wrote Bob Herbert for the African-American news website, theGrio.com.
This, of course, is nothing new. Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan coined the pejorative term “welfare queen” in 1976. But at a time when America is still extracting itself from the after-effects of the Great Recession – when unemployment continues to hover near 8 percent and Republicans themselves argue that it is actually much higher – why is talking about the poor politically toxic?
Primarily, it is a matter of political calculus, experts say. Though the percentage of people living under the poverty line is roughly equal to the percentage of Americans who are Hispanic, no one is courting the poor because their turnout on Election Day is traditionally low.
Moreover, presidential candidates are largely fighting for those few undecided votes in the American political middle who decide an election. For those voters weaned on America’s middle-class sensibilities and a national ethic of “rugged individualism,” public appeals for the poor can sound dissonant. The result is that political advocacy for the poor has largely fallen to the likes of openly liberal groups such as Occupy Wall Street. ...
This is an interesting article. Yet I'm not fully convinced by the idea that because the poor don't vote it is politically unhelpful to talk about poverty policies. In his The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan points out the most voters do not vote on narrow self-interest ... liberal or conservative. The vote based on what they think is in the greater good. Liberals don't tend to vote for entitlements because of what the personally will get out of it but because they think it is in the best interests of society. Libertarians don't tend to vote against taxes just to get more money but because they believe society will function better if taxes are lower.
While there may be stark differences among us in how to adress poverty issues, I think most people want to see themselves supporting a candidate that does what is just and right concerning the poor. The absence of debate on this topic is part of what has made more disenchanted with both candidates.
What do you think?